East Providence City Council adopts questionable moratorium on Homestead Audit

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EAST PROVIDENCE — The East Providence City Council went out with a bit of a splash Tuesday night, Nov. 20, during its last meeting of its two-year term, attempting to adopt a moratorium on the Homestead Audit authorized by the Budget Commission several months ago.

The Council reportedly balked at language in the letter sent from the City Assessment Office in regards to proof of residency. One option available to residents to show in fact they do live at their registered address is a federal tax return. Members of the Council believe that to be unnecessary and want it to be stripped from the letter.

The letter also lists drivers license/identification card, vehicle registration, utility bills, voter registration identification, bank statements/Social Security documents as other ways to prove residency.

The move by the Council, which could be seen as noble to some, is a bit misleading. As has happened several times since the state take-over, the Council can adopt a resolution, but the Budget Commission can overturn it. That has happened often during the Commission's now 11-month stay in the city, most notably after the Council went against its recommendation and continued to offer tax exempt status to several non-profit organizations in East Providence.

Reached by phone early Wednesday morning, Nov. 21, Budget Commission member and former chairman Michael O'Keefe said he wasn't aware of the Council's latest maneuver, but said he wasn't surprised.

Mr. O'Keefe said of greater concern to him, personally, were reports some residents had still as of yet actually received the Homestead Audit letter. The mailing was supposed to start in early October. Homeowners are expected to return their letters by Dec. 15.

The Commission was told by member and City Manager Peter Graczykowski at its Nov. 15 meeting a printing error on the original mailing had interrupted the process. All letters, however, were believed to have sent out in recent days. Mr. O'Keefe was not present at the meeting, but has been informed of the situation.

"I'm concerned about people not getting the letters," Mr. O'Keefe said. "It puts the burden on them when it shouldn't be. If the city tells someone they aren't eligible for the exemption, but they haven't received the letter yet, that's not right. To get the exemption they're now going to have to prove it, but that burden shouldn't be on them if the process wasn't done correctly to begin with."

The Homestead Audit in East Providence is intended to mirror the very successful one done in Providence, which recouped significant monies from residents who were registering vehicles and tangible property in other cities and towns.

Mr. O'Keefe said he wasn't quite sure how much money the Commission accounted for from the audit in its current and future budget frameworks, though it was likely enough to impact the bottom line.

Asked whether he expected the Commission to rescind the Council's moratorium, Mr. O'Keefe said he wasn't sure and that current Chairman Diane Brennan would lead any action taken by the state-overseers, likely as early as their next meeting scheduled for Thursday, Nov. 29, in City Hall at 3 p.m.

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